How far can the ‘Melting Pot’ be applied to Native Americans? The melting pot, a concept evolved from Israel Zangwill’s play in 1908 whereby people from different ethnic origins are fused into one nation, presents the struggle for the American Government to assimilate the huge number of immigrants travelling to America, each coming from an array of different countries speaking various languages and owning a variety of different cultures.
From 1865 to 1970, assimilation was forced upon the Native Americans yet was extremely hard for the American Government to achieve as the Native Americans demonstrated large efforts to resist any attempt at integration and continued to claim their right to be separate from other migrants in the ‘melting pot’. Attempts to assimilate the Native Americans socially into the American way of life included the Reservation policy. 133,417 Natives were forced to move on to reservations where it was forbidden to practice religion and destroyed their original tribal structures.
They experienced hardship, disease and hunger. Tribes were often split apart and families torn. The reservations that the Native Americans were forced onto physically segregated them from the rest of the population and therefore it seems difficult to witness how the government tried to incorporate them into society and part of a ‘melting pot’. In 1924, The Indian Citizenship Act gave the Native Americans citizenship and supposedly the right to vote, although not all states recognised these rights. This act was not due to the demands of the Indians, they were granted the vote whether they wanted it or not.
In terms of their rights, it was progress albeit unnecessary progress as they didn’t need it, nor did they need to be part of America. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was created in order to assimilate them, not to empower them. Other social attempts by the American Government to assimilate the Native Americans was through job opportunities. Through the 1960’s, although a small percentage of educated Native Americans found a place amongst the urban middle class system to gain a career, the remainder of them experienced great white hostility and found it near impossible to integrate into the American culture.
Whilst the American Government may have attempted to incorporate the Natives in the ‘melting pot’, the actuality seems that rather than a process of assimilation it was one of strong segregation. By encouraging them to live harmoniously like the whites they actively destroyed their way of life and therefore elicited more resentment from the Indians thus causing the reality of a ‘melting pot’ to be unreasonable. Economically, the Government had many attempts in assimilating the Native Indians. The Dawes Act of 1887 destroyed most of the reservations and gave each head of the family 160 acres of farmland or some equivalent.
Whilst removing the Reservation Policy it also reduced the land owned by Native Americans. As the Indians who owned the land paid taxes, it meant they were citizens, something completely unappreciated by them, as they still faced great discrimination when they attempted to assert their rights. Americanization of the Native Indians resulted in Battles such as Wounded Knee and the Battle of Little Bighorn as they were determined to pursue their own way of life and resisted any pressure to being belittled by their white ‘superiors’.
Similarly, the Termination Policy of the United States from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s that held the belief that Native Americans would be better off assimilated as individuals into mainstream American society, was another attempt the Government had to produce a ‘melting pot’. Congress proposed to end the special relationship between tribes and the federal government and the intention was to grant Native Americans all the rights and privileges of citizenship, and to reduce their dependence on a government whose mismanagement had been documented.
The policy terminated the U.S. government’s recognition of sovereignty of tribes, trusteeship of Indian reservations, and exclusion of Indians from state laws. Native Americans were to become subject to state and federal taxes as well as laws, from which they had previously been exempt. Again, not benefitting the Native Americans who still wanted the right to remain separated from the rest of the United States, this policy did not provide them with any encouragement to be part of a ‘melting pot’ that federal government longed for. For a ‘melting pot’ to work all ingredients (cultures, religions, races, etc.
) must be willing to be involved. The American government considered the Native Americans to be hostile. With this attitude, assimilation would never have been possible. The differences were too great- tribes were considered inferior, separate and independent to the US so therefore had no civil rights. Treaties such as the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 was made by the Government only to broken shortly after. If the government truly respected Natives as people of the United States these would have been kept and not just there as an olive branch that bought time
until United States government could establish a further series of Indian treaties that would force the Indians to give up their lands and move further west onto reservations. Like many other ethnic groups, Native Americans were affected in a number of ways by the US involvement in the Second World War. During the period of 1941-1945, 1000,000 Indians left their allotted reservations. 25,000 of these served in the armed forces, 75,000 moved to urban areas to work in the defence industry.
For these it was the first experience of living and working outside their Native American world and was also the first time that so many Native American had left the reservations. For those men in the army, they were surprisingly not segregated into a separate unit of soldiers, but were integrated with men from all around the country. This gave them a chance to fuse together with other men and attempt to change their views on them as people. Some gained significant recognition from the government for their hard work and the government gave money for families to move to work in defence industries from their reservations.
However post War, most were forced back onto reservations, receiving no privileges like White American veterans. The concept of the melting pot cannot be applied to the Native Americans. It suggests that in order for assimilation to work the Native Americans needed to want to be part of unified America. The Native American culture was too separate from the rest of the US, attempting to merge them together would never have flourished. The US government failed to see the differences and did not recognise Natives as people, but as inferior savages holding no rights.
Assimilation of the Native Americans could only happen with acceptance from both the US Government and The Native Americans who were not prepared to turn their backs on their own way of life. For the US government a ‘melting pot’ concept seems an idealism that would only succeed if all people from ethnic origins are willing to partake. Through the period of 1865-1992, attempts to assimilate Native Americans into a White American culture ended in the Native Americans holding a state of independence between the melting pot and their traditional culture.